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Paper 1: Unseen Prose


Using your planning time

Writing too precipitously can have
disastrous consequences for your
You should spend a good 30 mins
planning to have a confident sense of:
- What the passage is really about
- The significance of language and literary
- Your personal response
- How you intend to structure your
commentary with a sense of purpose and
1. Understanding the passage
Read through the passage once in its entirety
without annotating to get an overall sense of
what the passage is about
Write a short paragraph summarising the basic
narrative of the passage and identifying the key
themes / ideas when you come to write your
commentary you can adapt this summary to
form the first couple of sentences of your
introduction, in which you need to show explicit
understanding of the narrative.
2. Annotation: Thinking about how meaning is
conveyed through language and literary
Read the passage through two more times, thinking
carefully about the effects of particular words and literary
For prose commentary in particular, you need to be alert
- Narrative voice
- Characterisation
- Narrative structure
- Tensions/ oppositions / contrasts
- Setting
- Tense and mood
- Punctuation and syntax
- Dialogue
- Reader response
The art of annotation
It is essential to use your planning time to make
coherent, detailed and organised annotations.
You need to work out an effective method for
annotation. You could:
- Underline key words / ideas/ features
- Jot down your ideas in the margin
- Use a highlighter to identify particularly
significant aspects of the passage
- Use a golden pen to identify what is, to you, the
key aspect of the passage: this could serve as
the point you focus on for your central thesis
- Colour coding key themes or literary devices
3. Making sense of your
annotations: organisation and
When you have readstructure
the passage 3 times and feel your
annotations are comprehensive it is vital to think
carefully about structure (Criterion D, Presentation).
Think carefully about whether you want to structure your
commentary chronologically or thematically.
If you opt for a chronological structure, avoid adhering
strictly to paragraph divisions rather, see if you can
divide the passage into 3 sections (look for shifts in
subject matter / tone). A chronological structure can work
well but you must avoid the pitfalls of plodding or using
formulaic topic sentences at the beginning of
paragraphs. You should aim to show how the chronology
of the passage builds tension / develops character or
If you opt for a thematic structure ensure that
you dont lose a sense of organisation and end
up repeating yourself as you allude to quotations
/ literary devices which could be relevant to more
than one theme.
Whatever structure you adopt, you need to be
conscious of:
- The need for a sense of overriding argument, so
that your commentary is not a series of isolated
points with no sense of cohesion
- A central thesis which can be articulated in the
introduction and returned to in your conclusion:
what drives the passage? What is the most
striking feature / aspect?
- Signposting to the examiner what structure you
have adopted and where your commentary is
4. Writing the Introduction
When you have understood the passage, annotated in
detail and organised your notes into a focused structure,
you are ready to write your introduction.
In your introduction you should:
- Explicitly show your understanding of the passage (2/3
concise sentences)
- Assert your key thesis: For me, the most striking aspect
of this passage is
- Signpost how you are going to structure your
commentary (This passage falls into three distinct
sections; There are four key themes explored in this
5. Writing the Commentary
Your introduction is crucial in setting up the
structure and focus of your main commentary.
If you have made thorough annotations and
thought carefully about structure, you will be set
up for writing an excellent commentary
You need to adhere to the structure you have
asserted in your introduction and ensure you are
rigorously analysing the effects of language and
literary features and integrating textual evidence